Tag Archives: Technology

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Pathogens, Contamination and Technology in Food Safety Key Themes of 2022 Thus Far

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Nearly halfway into the year, the following are the most-read articles of 2022:

6. Four Testing and Detection Trends for 2022

Four Testing and Detection Trends for 2022


5. Packaging Automation Can Be an Essential Tool for Food Manufacturers

Packaging Automation Can Be an Essential Tool for Food Manufacturers


4. 8 Reasons Sustainability is Critical in Food and Beverage Manufacturing

8 Reasons Sustainability is Critical in Food and Beverage Manufacturing


3. The Costs Of Food Safety: Correction vs. Prevention

The Costs Of Food Safety: Correction vs. Prevention


2. FDA Continues Investigation of Listeria Outbreak in Packaged Salad

FDA Continues Investigation of Listeria Outbreak in Packaged Salad

1. Coca Cola Recalls Minute Maid, Coca Cola and Sprite Drinks Due to Foreign Matter Contamination

Coca Cola Recalls Minute Maid, Coca Cola and Sprite Drinks Due to Foreign Matter Contamination

Steven Sklare, Food Safety Academy
FST Soapbox

What Is Your Company’s Level of Digital Risk Maturity?

By Steven Sklare
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Steven Sklare, Food Safety Academy

The digital transformation of food safety management programs is a common topic of discussion today, across the full range of media including print, blogs, websites and conferences. It has also been generally acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly accelerated the adoption of various digital technologies. However, let’s be clear, COVID-19 may have accelerated the process, but the process was under way as the only way for food companies to efficiently cope with the increase of required compliance documentation for regulatory bodies, such as FDA, USDA, etc., non-regulatory organizations such as GFSI, and customer specific requirements. COVID-19 has added a sense of urgency, as the fragility of both domestic and international supply chains has been exposed with long-term sources of ingredients or equipment being cut off overnight. We must also overlay the need to manage food safety risk and food fraud vulnerability in real time (or even predict the future, which will be discussed further in a future article). The food industry has also had to adjust to dealing with many aspects of work and production without typical face-to-face interaction—a norm of operating within the environment of a global pandemic over the past two years.

What is not clear, however, is the meaning of “digital transformation” or the “digitization” of a food safety management program. What is not clear is what these terms mean to individual organizations. The frenzy of buzzwords, “urgent” presentations, blogs and webinars help to create an improved level of awareness but rarely result in concrete actions that lead to improved results. I admit to being guilty of this very hyperbole—in a previous article discussing “Chocolate and Big Data”, I said, “If a food organization is going to effectively protect the public’s health, protect their brand and comply with various governmental regulations and non-governmental standards such as GFSI, horizon scanning, along with the use of food safety intelligent digital tools, needs to be incorporated into food company’s core FSQA program.” Sounds great, but it presupposes a high level of awareness of those “digital tools”. What is not clear to many organizations is how to get started and how to create a road map that leads to improved results, more efficient operations and importantly, to ongoing improvement in the production of safe food.

Addressing a new concept can be intimidating and paralyzing. Think back to the beginning days of HACCP, then TACCP, then VACCP, and post FSMA, preventive controls! So, where do we start?

Nikos Manouselis, CEO of Agroknow, a food safety data and intelligence company with a cloud-based risk intelligence platform, Foodakai, believes the place to start is for food companies to perform an honest, self-assessment of their digital risk maturity. Think of it as a digital risk maturity gap analysis. While there are certainly different approaches to performing this self-assessment, Agroknow has developed a simple, straightforward series of questions that focus on three critical areas: Risk monitoring practices and tools; risk assessment practices and tools; and risk prevention practices and tools. The questions within each of these areas lead to a ranking of 1–5 with 1 being a low level of maturity and 5 being a high level of maturity. One of the goals of the self-assessment is to determine where your company stands, right now, compared to where you want to be or should be.

While this is not a complete nor exhaustive process, it helps to break the inertia that could be holding a company back from starting the process of digitizing their food protection and quality systems, which will allow them to take advantage of the benefits available from continuous monitoring of food safety risks and food fraud vulnerabilities, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics.

Berk Birand, Fero Labs

Is the Future of Food Quality in the Hands of Machine Learning?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Berk Birand, Fero Labs

Is the future of food quality in the hands of machine learning? It’s a provocative question, and one that does not have a simple answer. Truth be told, it’s not for every entity that produces food, but in a resource, finance and time-constrained environment, machine learning will absolutely play a role in the food safety arena.

“We live in a world where efficiency, cost savings and sustainability goals are interconnected,” says Berk Birand, founder and CEO of Fero Labs. “No longer do manufacturers have to juggle multiple priorities and make tough tradeoffs between quality and quantity. Rather, they can make one change that optimizes all of these variables at once with machine learning.” In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Birand briefly discusses how machine learning can benefit food companies from the standpoint of streamlining manufacturing processes and improve product quality.

Food Safety Tech: How does machine learning help food manufacturers maximize production without sacrificing quality?

Berk Birand: Machine learning can help food manufacturers boost volume and yield while also reducing quality issues waste, and cycle time. With a more efficient process powered by machine learning, they can churn out products faster without affecting quality.

Additionally, machine learning helps food producers manage raw material variation, which can cause low production volume. In the chemicals sector, a faulty batch of raw ingredients can be returned to the supplier for a refund; in food, however, the perishable nature of many food ingredients means that they must be used, regardless of any flaws. This makes it imperative to get the most out of each ingredient. A good machine learning solution will note those quality differences and recommend new parameters to deal with them.

FST: How does integrating machine learning into software predict quality violations in real-time, and thus help prevent them?

Birand: The power of machine learning can predict quality issues hours ahead of time and recommend the optimal settings to prevent future quality issues. The machine learning software analyzes all the data produced on the factory floor and “learns” how each factor, such as temperature or length of a certain process, affects the final quality.

By leveraging these learnings, the software can then help predict quality violations in real-time and tell engineers and operators how to prevent them, whether the solution is increasing the temperature or adding more of a specific ingredient.

FST: How does machine learning technology reveal & uphold sustainability improvements?

Birand: Due to the increase in climate change, sustainability continues to become a priority for many manufacturers. Explainable machine learning software can reveal where sustainability improvements, such as reducing heat or minimizing water consumption, can be made without any effect on quality or throughput. By tapping into these recommendations, factories can produce more food with the same amount of energy.

FDA

Online Food Shopping Becomes New Normal for Consumers, FDA to Ramp Up Food Safety Efforts

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Online grocery shopping became essential during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many consumers have returned to the brick and mortar stores, many others have completely changed how they shop for food, opting for online shopping, whether out of convenience or for safety. The FDA has seen and recognizes this shift and even held a three-day virtual summit last month, “The FDA New Era of Smarter Food Safety Summit on E-Commerce: Ensuring the Safety of Foods Ordered Online and Delivered Directly to Consumers”, to discuss and gain insights into the world of business to consumer e-commerce involving food.

“It is now clear that this is not a trend that will be completely reversed in time but one likely to lead to a new normal in how consumers shop for food, whether it’s from restaurants, grocery stores, or companies providing meal kits and other products,” state Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at FDA and Andreas Keller, director, multi-commodity foods, Office of Food Safety at CFSAN on the FDA Voices blog. “Thus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is actively working with partners in federal, state, and local government and industry in the U.S. and other nations, as well as with consumer advocates, to help ensure that consumers aren’t ever unwittingly trading food safety for convenience.”

During last month’s meeting, many challenges and questions came up, from how to further prevent food tampering to labeling issues, especially related to allergens, to ensuring that food safety values are shared across all parties involved in producing, transporting and selling food in the e-commerce setting.

FDA announced that it will be reviewing and assessing the information it received during the meeting and is inviting industry to submit public comments now through November 20, 2021 (Docket FDA-2021-N-0929). From there, the agency will determine the critical issues that need to be addressed first.

The daily recordings of the virtual summit are available on FDA’s website.

Michael Sperber, UL Everclean

Amid Labor Shortage, Restaurants and Grocery Stores Challenged to Focus on Sanitation and Employee Training

By Maria Fontanazza
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Michael Sperber, UL Everclean

The foodservice and retail industry has struggled to keep up with the curveballs thrown at it during this pandemic. “Whether reopening dining rooms after extended closures or finding their footing in a world of new omnichannel ordering, quick service restaurant and fast casual managers are grappling with evolving rules and regulations, changing diner preferences, while also welcoming an entirely new workforce,” says Michael Sperber, a global business manager for UL Everclean, a third-party retail food safety and sanitation audit program that helps retail foodservice businesses improve their food safety practices. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Sperber discussed the evolving challenges in the foodservice and retail space over the past 15 months.

Food Safety Tech: On the issue of sanitation and cleanliness, what hurdles do restaurants and grocery stores have in the face of the pandemic and the subsequent labor shortage?

Michael Sperber: Trust in the safety and cleanliness of restaurants and grocery stores is one of the bigger concerns that must be addressed as consumers continue to navigate the pandemic. Consumers now have a higher expectation for their own health and well being, and expect establishments they visit to meet their needs and [doing so] while embracing heightened health and safety protocols.

FST: What steps should they be taking to identify and reduce potential health and safety risks?

Michael Sperber, UL Everclean
Michael Sperber, global business manager for UL Everclean

Sperber: Amidst new challenges, guidelines and expectations, restaurants continue to have the critical responsibility of offering sanitary eating spaces and food preparation practices that help prevent diners from getting foodborne illnesses. There are several ways that restaurants can do this including:

  1. Leveraging technology to support food safety best practices.
    • Hand washing monitors help guide employees in proper handwashing techniques.
    • Internet of Things (IoT) temperature devices can monitor hot and cold food holding and service areas, instantly alerting managers when temperatures fall outside an acceptable range.
    • Touchless technologies like digital displays in the back of the house reduce transmission risk from employees handling food.
  2. Auditing every location of one branded store can account for differences in employees and managers. Left unverified, the rigor of food safety practices may simply rest on the personal conviction of a single location manager, rendering it completely inconsistent across locations. It is critical that management audit each individual store for compliance with food safety best practices.
    iii. Having an emergency plan, and then training for and rehearsing the plan, can help with proper mitigation of the threats of potential contamination.

FST: Discuss the role of employee training in this process, and how organizations should move forward.

Sperber: Training employees in food safety and customer interaction is a vital step in protecting employees and guests from foodborne illnesses. Employees who recently started at a restaurant when it reopened might not be aware of the dangers of foodborne illnesses or basic food safety protocols.

As restaurants reopen, when more and more guests have safety at the top of their mind, they should completely reboot their food safety programs, beginning with basics of safe food handling and foodborne illness. Repetition is a good way to reinforce the importance of food safety, and it may be beneficial to provide multiple training videos, pose questions on food safety during the interview and training process and include food safety on periodic employee reviews. Infractions among employees should result in retraining. This level of repetition communicates the importance of the issue.

A focus on employee training will help lead to a culture of food safety where everyone from the corporate CEO to the manager and janitorial staff feels accountable and can understand the consequences of failure to follow proper protocols.

FDA

FDA Launches Office of Digital Transformation

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Taking a step further in prioritizing technology and data modernization efforts, today the FDA announced the launch of a new Office of Digital Transformation. The office realigns the agency’s information technology, data management and cybersecurity roles into a central office that reports directly to the FDA commissioner. The reorganization will also help FDA further streamline its data and IT management processes, reducing duplication of processes, and promote best practices, technological efficiencies and shared services in a strategic and secure way.

“Good data management, built into all of our work, ultimately helps us meet and advance the FDA’s mission to ensure safe and effective products for American families,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., in an FDA news release. “The agency began these efforts because, as a science-based agency that manages massive amounts of data to generate important decisions and information for the public, innovation is at the heart of what we do. By prioritizing data and information stewardship throughout all of our operations, the American public is better assured of the safety of the nation’s food, drugs, medical devices and other products that the FDA regulates in this complex world. This reorganization strengthens our commitment to protecting and promoting public health by improving our regulatory processes with a solid data foundation built in at every level.”

 

FDA

FDA Announces 12 Winners of Traceability Challenge

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Back in May, FDA launched a technology traceability challenge with the goal of promoting innovation in the development of scalable and affordable traceability technology tools for food operations of all sizes. Today, the agency announced the winning teams and their technologies:

  • FarmTabs. Free, downloadable software run on Microsoft Excel to aid small and mid-size farmers manage records for traceability/ farm-related metrics.
  • Freshly. Traceability and batch-tracking software for small businesses (including retailers, manufacturers and distributors).
  • HeavyConnect. Cloud-based digital traceability and compliance documentation solutions, including a mobile app for producers to capture data in the field and share it across the supply chain.
  • ItemChain. Item-level traceability to each party in the supply chain.
  • Kezzler. Solution uses self-service portals to generate item-level identifiers and associate homogenized datasets at the grower level through mobile applications.
  • Mojix. Uses industry standards to link traceability events for each item or lot throughout the supply chain in an open data network.
  • OpsSmart. Cloud-based traceability software solution for food safety, recall management, and traceability in a complex supply chain.
  • Precise’s. Traceability Suite that provides end-to-end supply chain tracking to all segments of the food market, using geospatial, machine learning and IoT technologies.
  • Roambee/GSM/Wiliot’s. Solution uses low-cost IoT sensor tags in with shipment visibility and verification technologies for end-to-end traceability.
  • Rfider. Software-as-a-service that captures, secures and shares critical event data along supply chains to consumers.
  • TagOne. A role-based data capture framework that updates an open source blockchain platform, and uses industry standards to ensure interoperability, and ease of use and data security.
  • Wholechain. Supply chain traceability system that uses blockchain technology to trace products back to the original source.

The videos submitted by each winning company are available on FDA’s webpage that announces the winners.

Scott Deakins, Deacom
FST Soapbox

Billions of Dollars Lost to Food Waste, Tech Exists to Reduce It

By Scott Deakins
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Scott Deakins, Deacom

Food waste is a massive global problem led by the United States. According to the USDA, an estimated 30–40% of the country’s food supply ends up in landfills—most of it at the retail and consumer levels. This amounted to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food wasted in 2010 alone, which prompted the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency to launch the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions initiative in 2016. Businesses and other organizations can join the ranks as champions by committing to a 50% reduction of food loss and waste by 2030.

That’s a noble goal, but those businesses will only be able to achieve their objective with technologies that reduce food waste in production and the supply chain. Food lost in this medium is hardly insignificant. At least 10%—or billions of pounds of food—is wasted in acts as small as over-ordering or in transport. This is, in short, the result of errors in resource planning.

After an extremely difficult year, food process manufacturers can no longer afford to generate that level of waste. Fortunately, technologies already exist to help the industry regain control of its production, storage and forecasting, and can facilitate leaner businesses and less waste.

Eliminate Human Error and System Inconsistencies

There have been a lot of changes in the way food is grown, harvested, delivered and sold over the last few decades, yet little progress has been made when it comes to unnecessary waste. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation reports that food loss and waste can occur post-harvest due to inaccurate supply and demand forecasting, grade standards for size and quality, and deficiencies in refrigeration. Even the packaging can cause problems if it is inefficient or ineffective.

These and other problems lead to waste—some up front before the product is ever sold to consumers, others down the line after an item has been purchased, leading to a recall. If inventory records are anything less than 100% accurate from formulation through shipment, additional challenges will follow. Though it is not heavily considered in an FDA audit, manufacturers still need the ability to instantaneously report on any aspect of their inventory history, regardless of the ERP software from which data is pulled. ERP systems with bolt-on modules often fail in this regard. If functionalities of the sub-systems are not designed for strict lot tracking, or if those sub-systems are not designed exactly the same, errors are inevitable.

Workarounds can be implemented, but they cannot account for processes that still need to be performed manually, which increases the likelihood that lot tracking accuracy will fall short. Inefficiencies are further exacerbated by sub-systems that handle actions differently, but the challenges don’t end there.

Problems can also develop when data has to be shared across more than one module, database or even system, which may inspire the use of outside solutions, such as an Excel spreadsheet, compounding the issues at hand. Makeshift solutions increase the risk that an incorrect lot number will be entered or that someone will forget to delete a number after a lot was de-issued and re-issued. Any of these cracks in the operational foundation will inevitably deduct from the 100% inventory accuracy that’s necessary for a smooth recall process—anything less will lead to a greater impact on the business.

The only real solution is to eliminate the potential for human error and system inconsistencies altogether—and that can only be accomplished with a configurable ERP solution that handles all business processes from one system and one database and can easily adapt to changing regulation and recipes. Without it, true strict lot control—meaning 100% inventory accuracy with perfect record keeping and the ability to instantly report on any aspect of the inventory history—cannot be achieved.

Reduce Inventory Variance and Grow without Unnecessary Expansions

There are aspects of food waste that can be controlled, including inventory variance, which occurs when items are lost, misplaced or miscounted. This is particularly problematic for packaging and ingredients, causing issues at the production level—finished products cannot be made if there aren’t enough items to complete the process, which is also bad for the bottom line. Inventory variance may occur if deliveries are not verified to confirm that ordered ingredients were actually received or may happen if items are entered incorrectly or simply misidentified.

Variance is more than a nuisance—it can be quite costly. For example, Silver Spring Foods encountered this firsthand when it discovered that its inventory variance commonly reached between $250,000 and $300,000. The company, which debuted in 1929 when founder Ellis Huntsinger started growing horseradish and other vegetable crops, now produces the number-one horseradish retail brand in the United States. With more than 9,000 acres of prime Wisconsin and Minnesota farmland, Silver Spring realized that it had outgrown its outdated ERP solution.

The company initially thought that it had reached capacity and could only grow further by physically expanding its building with an additional manufacturing line that would require new hires to come aboard. In reality, the company needed an ERP solution that could keep up with its impressive level of growth.

More specifically, Silver Spring Foods wanted an ERP system that could tie together several elements, including customer service, accounting, manufacturing, purchasing and shipping within a single tool. The company needed a solution that offered strong data mining and reporting functionality, as well as strong sales reporting, sustainable tech support capabilities and would not exceed ERP budget allocations. It was equally important to have an ERP solution that was configurable without customization, prioritizing speed and efficiency while offering predictable quality and cost of ongoing IT support and maintenance.

After upgrading to a solution that met all of its requirements, Silver Spring Foods was able to gather all data in one system that brought together multiple software integrations, including CRM. This allowed the firm to fine-tune its material purchases to match current production needs, sales forecasts and production schedules. More importantly, inventory variance was reduced to $90,000 during the first year and now falls within a range of just $1,800 to $2,500. By improving inventory management, unearthing new efficiencies and proving that Silver Spring had not yet reached capacity, the company was now able to grow without adding additional square footage.

Don’t Let Waste Cut into Productivity

Food growers, processors and supply chains cannot afford to let waste cut into their productivity or their bottom line. They need to be able to keep track of everything, achieving true strict lot control to limit the damage caused by a recall. They also need to be able to improve food management and reduce inventory variance. These and other advantages can only be attained with the right ERP technology, however, so businesses must choose wisely before making an investment.

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

As Demand for Frozen Food Surges, Cold Storage Facilities Must Continue to Prioritize Safety

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Frozen food demand has skyrocketed. Although COVID-19 was a catalyst, there are many reasons why the trend will likely continue going forward. The pandemic forced people to eat at home more, which was largely responsible for the hike in food sales, especially frozen goods. Higher availability and food quality enhancements have also contributed to the spike, prompting suppliers to upgrade and expand cold storage warehouse solutions—whether that means creating extra space or utilizing existing space more effectively.

One of the more important changes, prioritized across the industry, is food preservation and safety. It has always been crucial that frozen food reaches its destination clean, healthy and still frozen — just as it went in. However, preliminary data from the CDC’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network reveals that foodborne illnesses are up 15%. The primary or most common form is Salmonella, but COVID-19 has consumers and food safety professionals thinking more closely about cleanliness and proper sanitation.

It has pushed a tight focus on safety overall, with new innovations looking to enhance sector controls.

Necessity Breeds Creativity

Recent events have played a role in the industry’s continued focus on safety, but so have consumer demands, as more and more people look to frozen meals, foods and items as part of their normal routines.

People love convenience. But as the pandemic hit, and people were forced to isolate and remain home more, and restaurants and stores closed as a safety precaution. What was once about convenience became even more about safety. People still wanted freedom and ease of use, but it wasn’t a necessity nor was it a priority. Safety became even more important, which is why curbside pickup, deliveries and online transactions became so popular.

What does this have to do with frozen foods? Everything. Because of the pandemic, we’ve all had to eat at home more often, which means preparing meals, snacks and other items, with minimal exposure to the outside world or even local grocery stores. Naturally, consumers turned to easily cooked and pre-prepared frozen foods and meals.

Safety is the Priority

It makes sense that more frozen foods being purchased and consumed would shift priorities in the market. In a 2021 report released by Acosta, 14% of respondents say they consume frozen food nearly all the time. About 46% say they consume frozen foods often.

During the pandemic, the share of U.S. core frozen food consumers rose to 39% in 2020, up from 35% in 2018. “Core” consumers are defined as those who either eat frozen food daily or every few days.

What’s more, 42% of households that buy frozen foods did so online, up from 23% in 2018. And online frozen food sales jumped 75% last year, with the top purchases including frozen dinners and entrees, meat, poultry and even seafood.

Instead of restricting eating habits, consumers have turned to frozen foods to spruce up their meals, create new at-home dishes, and so on. It has boosted the demand for all kinds of frozen foods. It also necessitates the need for improved quality and safety. Implementing and maintaining strict controls as to how the food is transported, handled and preserved, can prevent contamination on all fronts.

With that rise in dependence, on frozen foods specifically, it is imperative that supply chain operators are delivering goods in a safe, healthy condition. Allowing foods to thaw during the transport process can introduce more problems than just contamination, especially with COVID remaining a major influence.

Imagine how bad it would be if the world experienced a major foodborne outbreak, right now. Most scenarios can be prevented through smarter food handling and better, data-driven controls.

New methods are being implemented to chill and prepare foods earlier on in the supply process. Many cold chain providers are adopting low-temperature chillers, like a food processing chiller, for example. They can freeze prepared foods quickly to ensure they are safe, disinfected and stored appropriately. From there, it’s just a matter of keeping them cold-locked during transport, storage, delivery, and beyond. That’s precisely where some of the latest innovations come into the picture.

Cold Storage Warehouse Innovations

To keep up with the demand and ensure frozen foods and other goods stay fresh in the cold chain, the industry is seeing rampant innovation, thanks to modern technologies. Think IoT-equipped fleets and storage systems to facilitate faster time to market and better transparency. Or, machine learning and AI-driven tools that help discern bottlenecks, locate faster and more effective solutions, and so on.

At the heart of it all is data, or rather digital content and information. The smarter and more contextually driven operations are, the better efficiency is all around. The following are some of the technologies making this happen:

  • IioT. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) involves connected devices that continually collect, transmit and sometimes process performance and contextual data. In the cold chain, it can be used to track goods, prevent theft or fraud, monitor processes, discover bottlenecks and more.
  • Machine Learning. An offset of artificial intelligence, machine learning and neural networks can be used to ingest and analyze massive swarms of data in ways, and at speeds, that humans never could. What’s more, the technology can empower highly advanced automation systems to take action, respond, or act based on algorithmic rulesets.
  • Electric and autonomous vehicles. Revolutionizing logistics and conventional transport, electric and fully autonomous vehicles will significantly improve fleets with better safety, stop-free trips and more.
  • Smart shelving. Imagine Amazon’s Kivo bots, or something similar, implemented within cold storage warehouses. The entire system is designed to improve inventory management, order picking, and general logistics.
  • Co-bots. Beyond delivery, ground-based drones or advanced robots can be used to transport and move heavy goods, large or bulk orders, and organize the warehouse. When outfitted with the appropriate hardware, they can reach high shelves and storage areas or move through hazardous locations, improving safety for manual workers.

Innovation Brings New Challenges

Of course, there are the general challenges facing the cold storage industry, such as how to keep foods fresh throughout the journey, proper packaging solutions, and maintaining more sanitary conditions, but there are new challenges presented by the adopted technologies.

For example, IIoT devices aren’t typically designed to be exposed to extremely frigid temperatures, which may sometimes affect the measurements and data collected. A malfunctioning device can lead to serious problems, especially when it’s the sole method for maintaining temperatures and ensuring food is properly stored.

Bringing these devices up to a sufficiently resistant level is a challenge, as is keeping them running optimally. Failing to do so could increase food contamination, the spread of foodborne illness, or worse.

Another challenge involves the expansion or development of new cold storage facilities. As warehouses and locations grow to accommodate larger inventories, the cold storage systems must become more sophisticated and powerful. What’s more, even the slightest temperature drop because of a system failure can have sweeping repercussions in such a large facility. A single refrigeration unit going down can drop temperatures across the entire warehouse.

Designing smarter spaces to keep the cold temperatures contained is one solution. Installing the supporting systems is another, which keeps things operational even when a negative scenario plays out. Automation and smart, data-driven technologies can be incredibly helpful in this area.

Finally, the bigger the cold storage solution, the higher the power draw and the more resources needed to keep things running. In turn, it’s necessary to install and implement smart technologies to reduce the carbon footprint. Cutting energy usage wherever possible becomes vital to sustainability. It can call for solutions like smart or timed lighting, smart thermostats for the refrigeration units, or upgraded systems that reduce emissions — think electric fleets and renewable energy platforms.

Backup solutions are even a part of the mix, when power outages can bring an entire operation down in seconds, and expose food to long-term risk.

Frozen Food Demand: A Steady Climb

Things may change, and there are never any guarantees, but right now it looks as though high demand for frozen food will continue, and may even grow steadily. Market conditions are partly responsible, but consumers are now more focused on quality and healthy foods, above eating out or ordering in. As the economy continues to open, people will want to get back out there and explore. But that doesn’t necessarily mean frozen food demand will decline.

Cold chain and cold storage warehouse providers must be prepared for the continued growth, which includes finding new and innovative ways to preserve, package and safely store frozen foods.

Derek Stangle, Squadle
Retail Food Safety Forum

How the Pandemic Raised the Stakes for Food Safety

By Derek Stangle
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Derek Stangle, Squadle

Food safety concerns are constant across the food industry. From grocery stores to restaurants to meatpacking plants, the industry has doubled down on creating greater transparency into how food is stored, handled, cooked and delivered to the end customer. At the same time, new technology is helping food executives execute everything from contactless transactions to track, record, and promote their safety policies as never before.

Both independent restaurants and large chains see food safety as an issue that grew in importance during the pandemic. Diners have come to rely on restaurant policies for staff hygiene, such as washing hands, wearing gloves, and tracking personnel temperatures at the beginning of every shift. Their patrons expect that each restaurant will demonstrate how they are adhering to safety protocols. Restaurants are publishing their policies via signage, flyers added to take-out orders, social media posts, updated website language, or even safety protocols published to Yelp.

What’s more, their customers can easily access guidelines published by the CDC such as “Avoid Food Poisoning: Tips for Eating at Restaurants”, which explain how to check a restaurant’s safety score at the local health department website or find information, such as certificates that show kitchen managers have completed food safety training and posted it in the physical restaurant.

For restaurants, a transparent safety policy can become a competitive advantage, used to win new customers and attract the very best job candidates.

Grocery stores face similar challenges. From the checkout line to deli employees and the inventory clerks stocking the shelves, grocery employees are essential workers who also experience an unusually high level of public contact. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million workers in food and retail, since the pandemic began, there have been more than 100,000 frontline and grocery union workers infected or exposed to COVID-19.

The UFCW has called for better safety precautions for grocery workers, including free PPE, paid sick leave, and vaccination prioritization that reflects their role as essential workers. As the national vaccination program picks up steam, more states are recognizing the need to vaccinate these essential workers, and they’ve been moved up in the prioritization line.

Until vaccines become more prevalent, however, grocery stores have adopted measures, much like those in restaurants, that are designed to protect both workers and shoppers. Mask mandates, one-way aisles, six-foot distancing, and Plexiglas shields at checkout are now commonplace.

Expanding Takeout and Delivery

Both restaurants and grocery stores have seen a huge shift to delivery ordering or curbside takeout over the course of the pandemic. Customers expect their favorite brands to give them the option of a frictionless, contactless experience where they have minimal contact with employees.

In order to offer a contactless takeout experience, both grocery stores and restaurants have invested heavily in technology. Curbside pickup and home delivery require an up-to-date website synched to inventory and menus. In addition, mobile apps enable guests to order remotely regardless of their location. The ability to pay via the app or a mobile wallet is the next step in a seamless contactless experience. Guests can pick up groceries or restaurant orders curbside, or pay a little more to have them delivered to their doorsteps.

The big advantage for shoppers is that they never come into contact with store employees, thus reducing the possibility of virus transmission. However, shoppers are finding that they also like the speed and convenience of the contactless experience. For this reason, many restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Chipotle, are expanding their drive-through capabilities.

Big brands like Amazon are doing the same with grocery. The Amazon Go concept store provides a “Just Walk Out Shopping” experience. There are no lines and no checkout. Customers download an Amazon Go app, and their items are automatically scanned and billed to their account. Other innovators include Wegman’s, which has partnered with Instacart to facilitate free delivery for its online shoppers, and brands like Safeway and Albertson’s, which also have curbside pickup facilitated via their mobile apps.

Back-of-House Technology

Back-of-house technology completes the food safety paradigm for restaurants and grocery stores. New systems that combine wireless networks with temperature monitors and data analysis make it simple and compulsory to track food temperatures throughout a facility. Remote sensors automatically record temperatures in coolers, the kitchen, and as orders move on to the customer.

Workflow automation in the back-of-house has become equally indispensable as food compliance has become increasingly more complex. Whether it’s a multi-unit restaurant or grocery brand, operators crave the data and visibility that only a digital solution can provide. Automation reduces the amount of time spent on tasks otherwise done manually, cuts down on the chance of errors, increases customer satisfaction and improves overall efficiency.

Technology helps the foodservice industry to stay on track, ensure compliance and encourages employees to stick with these practices. With a digital solution that keeps an electronic record of all the protocols that need to be completed, restaurants and groceries can record each inspection, such as taking photos of clean equipment and walk-in coolers at proper temperatures, as well as reminding them of their most important tasks and cleaning schedules.